impactmania caught up with Louise Doorn, founder and CEO of MaaS — www.hellomaas.com — in Soho, New York.
After 17 years, Louise said farewell to her corporate career. Most recently, she was working with JP Morgan Chase as their First Head of Social Media. Partly inspired by digital nomads, she launched her company Marketing as a Service (MaaS). Louise shared how she made the transition from an 8-figure marketing budget to sending marketing newsletters herself. For now!
BY PAKSY PLACKIS-CHENG
Louise, let’s talk about Marketing as a Service, MaaS.
I started my career going from project management to strategy. Before I left the Netherlands to come to New York, I was advising large companies on how to gain more business value from the new digital channels. I discovered that an increasingly amount of small medium businesses (SMB) are struggling to understand what to do with all these digital channels. I decided after working for almost 17 years to say goodbye from the corporate world and move into a much more entrepreneurial role.
What spurred it?
I’m intrigued by getting stuff done and right now it is a lot easier to do stuff. You have data, tools, and fluidity. You can easily build teams, which allow you to do things a lot more disruptive, than you could five years ago.
And in all honesty, if you’re been working at a pretty senior level for 17 years…it was not something appealing to continue. I wanted to give myself an opportunity to try something different in the world of marketing.
Is this your first startup?
No, I was an executive at a pretty big startup. It’s a big transition from being a marketing manager with an 8-figure dollar budget to the startup space. I worked as the chief marketing officer (CMO) at a large company in the media space. The team consisted of 200 people, so it was a good size to understand the ecosystem startups space without being too alien from the innovative stuff.
That is still a pretty large company versus an early-stage venture.
Yeah, it gave me a smooth transition. Then throughout that, I started to look into early-stage companies and into other ways to contribute; I do a bit of angel investing and I’m also an adviser to a couple of startups.
As an angel investor, how do you evaluate the opportunities that are in front of you?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m still learning. I’m now seeking syndicates where I can join other people for investing, because I think it’s better if you do it in a group space. I was opportunistic with most of the investments; I knew and liked the founder. It is a great opportunity to walk along side somebody that’s going to find out about a market.
But there’s a lot more that comes with being an entrepreneur in a startup. As they say in Dutch, “You’re like a sheep with five legs.” You really need to cover all the bases: understand legal, keep administration, and build teams. As a founder, you have to dream it and do it.
What has been an unexpected learning while starting your own company?
Well, it’s very hard. Not to disregard anybody that works in a corporate environment, but there’s not a lot of risk you are taking. Actually, if you take a lot of risk, you make it more challenging for yourself.
At a startup, sometimes there is no budget. You’ll have to do everything on your own; you need to be extremely motivated. It’s all encompassing; it doesn’t stop in the weekend. There are a lot of worries. It comes at the expense of your family life or other things. You’re depleting your savings. There’s a lot of belief that you need to have in yourself and in the company to get it off the ground. I have great admiration for anybody that’s taking that lead.
What was the first thing you did when you decided to start MaaS?
I did a lot of research. I went to an interesting conference, CU Asia, earlier this year. Which is all about co-living and co-working, it’s run by and for people that want to build a different work future. People who want to live in distributed teams. They work remotely and are extremely passionate about their work.
Give me an example of what you saw.
There were about 250 people in the conference room. The average age was between 25 and 35. Some of them had excellent Ivy League education. They could get well paying jobs in America, but they were operating from their heart. Some said to me, “I had a job for a couple years out of college, I didn’t like it. I wanted to travel the world, but also make a positive impact.” At the same time, they have student loans and need to pay that off, so they have the responsibility to continue to make money.
Most know Bali [Indonesia] as a holiday destination, but it’s one of the biggest areas where digital nomads live. These digital nomads are not defined by nine to five. They work 20 – 50 hours a week, but are very flexible, either during the night or day. They have their portfolio of clients that they work with: U.S. or European companies and build a life for themselves around passion and purpose. I was really surprised with how they managed their lives. I met these young entrepreneurs that build a subscription service business. They do the programing, marketing, and management. Some of them are making $300,000 – $400,000 a year.
That planted the seed for me, I wanted to take this and feed it back into tangible solutions in my field, which is marketing. I’ve been looking at the agency model in the marketing world for a very long time. I used to work for a Publicis Groupe agency in New York. I know the model from inside out, but also from the outside in, because I used to be a client of a lot of these advertising agencies.
I felt a disconnect between agency and client — the process and collaboration could improve. The internet, through community and marketplaces, is ripe for a new marketing agency model. If you look at legal services and software development, you can go to online platforms like Priori Legal or Upwork to find qualified specialists on demand. MaaS is building upon that model for vetted marketers that speak local languages and understand local culture.
Some of the platforms are really good in vetting workers as well. Or they can even build teams. They use artificial intelligence to make sure that they have high-performing teams and there’s radical transparency of who’s on your team.
As a client, when you work with a large marketing/advertising agency, you usually buy into the sales presentation by senior leaders. There is often little opportunity to influence who is on your team. Effective marketing is about collaboration and short iterations. Companies should have direct access to marketers with specific industry experience and are able to pick the best to work with through reviews and ratings.
What would be different from the agency model with MaaS?
We know that marketing can be smarter. MaaS delivers Marketing As A Service. A platform where companies find marketers, teams, and tools that offer solutions, not just hours for hire. Our marketplace connects vetted freelancers or software optimized teams directly with companies, fast, simple, and transparent.
The MaaS marketplace is just the start. Our planner SaaS tool is co-created with the brains of the MaaS community. This tool guides companies on their marketing strategy with step-by-step approach, saving time. With advanced technologies such as augmented intelligence and the blockchain.
We offer a unique opportunity to create active and passive income, so marketers can future-proof their career. They can work when, where, for whom and how much they want. MaaS is about community first. We share commission and company equity with marketers contributing to our growth.
For companies, particularly SMB’s it’s very hard to keep up with all new changes in marketing. We guide them through the opportunities and with people they can trust. We aim to drastically reduce their time-to-market and increase growth. Now also companies with more modest budgets can access top marketers and leverage their experience at an affordable price.
This is more advanced than Upwork, right?
Yes. I’ve been using Upwork-like platforms as a client for two years. I have a couple of researchers in India that helped me research the portfolio companies, but also researching my business plan. The platform is great, but what I learned from that experience, first of all, it takes a lot of time to find the right person to work with.
Then once you have somebody that lives in another culture, you’re limited to the output that you need in the culture that you live in. If, for example, you live in a country like the Netherlands where they speak Dutch, a lot of marketing is culturally contextual. If you are hiring a marketer from India to work on a Dutch client, it’s very hard for them to understand the competitive landscape. That’s another component that we’re building into MaaS. We start in Europe first and go country by country.
We are using the blueprint model of Uber that has a very specific playbook to go from country to country. It’s a repeatable process, but you work with the local people in the markets and leverage their network to build the company together.
Marketers own the very visible external voice for a company, right?
Exactly. Yeah, and for a marketer coming into the office and understanding the company’s culture by having a chat with somebody that sits at the reception or somebody that does sales is key. We talked a lot to small and medium businesses. All of them say, “I want to see the people I work with, they don’t need to come to the office everyday, but it would be nice to connect every once in a while.”
Where does the augmented intelligence [rather than artificial intelligence] come in?
Let’s say you’re an Instagram marketer. This is a tactical marketer, but there is a lot of need for that right now. You have done ten different Instagram campaigns for luxury fashion brands. So you can go and do your 11th account.
What you can also do is create a how-to-guide with a video tutorial. Maybe every Friday afternoon, you hold a one-hour Q & A. It is like a webinar and you sell this as a package for $300. This makes Instagram marketing for a lot of the lower tier of SMBs more accessible, because they might not to be able to afford you at a rate of $100 an hour. Businesses learn the tools to get an understanding of the benchmarks. Once they know that, they can actually try to improve and iterate and do it on their own.
We’d like to provide access to smart marketing a lot easier, and it’s a great way for the talent to start monetizing their work.
You are helping the Instagram marketer scale.
Exactly, and that is the more philosophical premise. There’s a tectonic shift happening right now in work. A lot of people talk about universal basic income. A lot of people think that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are going to take over all our jobs.
And even though I’m don’t think it’s going to be that extreme, I do think technology is going to impact a lot of jobs. It’s going to impact it in a positive way. A lot of work through repetition is going to be made obsolete. That means you’re going to have a lot more opportunity for human creativity. Which is great when you work in a marketing profession.
Over time, we want to build benchmarks on all the campaign performances and start amortizing that and feed that back into our planner. So we have subscription service where you can basically do your marketing planning across hundreds of different marketing tactics. Based upon your needs, we can help you with our planner to decide where to play and how to play.
That’s still means that you still need to do all the creativity part with your team or with our team, or blended teams. But you take the groundwork of crunching all these different data.
I understand you are building this with blockchain, tell me more about that.
I’ve been in a blockchain space for over 18 months. I find it totally fascinating; blockchain is basically building a new infrastructure to optimize supply chain. And that’s what I’m doing within marketing, I’m optimizing the supply chain and I’m giving the power and the opportunity to the marketers by putting their content onto the blockchain, because it’s immutable.
That means people cannot tinker with your content. We can put in all these business rules. For example, we can define that if your Instagram how-to-guide is being used, you’ll receive royalties of 20 or 30 percent, and for the highest performing tactics we’re going to have an equity share. Then every year we do an equity grant to the people that perform best. If you built that whole infrastructure on a blockchain, these agreements are set and visible to the team. It’s not up to me as a centralized CEO to decide what to do, which is happening in big agencies and companies.
It is making it visible who’s contributing most to the community. The top of the trades has the biggest gain. In that regard it’s a capitalist idea, but we try to do it in a fair capitalist kind of way.
Going back to Thailand where the digital nomads help inspired you to build MaaS, is that where we are heading? Will we see more of these communities sprout?
Yeah, I do see a trend, but it’s not for everybody. It allows younger people to live up to their potential and experiment more than when you are living in a big, expensive city. Previously, I had people in my teams that were Ivy League graduates, but to make ends meet, they were bartending in the weekend. Which is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t give them a lot of opportunity to explore the world and live life to its full potential. I see with digital nomads that they set their own rules. It is going to make people look holistically at what life is about. It’s less about positions and titles.
What advice do you have for the older generation that will need to reinvent themselves?
We live in a world where you can make that change if you want to. All you need is an Internet connection and a laptop. A friend of mine used to be in the executive team of Etsy. She told me of a group of people in Wisconsin, where good jobs are hard to come by, created these beautiful mantle pieces like an art object. They used the Etsy platform and made a really nice additional income.
You will have to rewire to become self reliant, you’ll have to be humble, and learn all these things. It’s a mental attitude. For me, it was going from an 8-digit marketing budget to doing an email boost letter myself. I’m launching the Instagram channel! [Laughs.] You don’t have a whole team around you anymore that supports you. You’ll have to have that kind of resilience.
Apart from resilience, what other ingredients do you need to have to turn away from the corporate world and start all over?
You’ll need to think about how you are going to make money. I’ve seen a lot of startups that say, “This is cool, we’ll create it, and then a lot of users and money will flow our way. Or someone will buy us!”
I think you need to start thinking about how to monetize it now and over time. I’ve paid a lot of attention to the existing big platforms. I thought, what can I do that is specific for marketing and specific in a certain country. It’s not that different, but still it’s helping to solve big problems for the companies that we talk to. That in itself is a business on it’s own.
Then, the 15 to 25 percent markup that we have is the average of what the other platforms charge. It can scale exponentially if you get to a certain volume. But at the same time, the cost of entry is not that high and so you want to make sure that you can build something on top of that to make it harder for competitors to come in.
That’s why we’re working towards the planner and community, giving them equity and a platform through the blockchain. They can actually share their knowledge in a way that’s going to benefit them
That monetization part of the business is not going to happen until you’re three years into the business. In the meantime, you will have to have other types of revenues. I’ve been spending a lot of time just going through that business planning exercise before starting the business; because if one of the revenues did not work out, what is my default, what can I lean back on?
Give me a few words that describe your journey so far.
That’s a fantastic question. Exhilarating. Moving from Amsterdam to New York six years ago was such a fantastic change. I learned so much about myself by getting out of my comfort zone. It sounds a little cliché, but it’s the best thing you can do at certain times.
But also make sure you have your stability. My partner, Linda, of 20 years makes it fantastic to do all these things together, because you have that love and trust. Even if you don’t have a life partner, there’s a support network that you can create with your existing family or a new family. That helps you manage the uncertainties that go with these changes when you decide to be more entrepreneurial.
What is one thing you learned about yourself?
I should have listened to myself sooner. In the generation where I was raised, there’s a certain path. If you start to deviate from that path, people start to ask questions. Sometimes these questions can be a bit negative.
You did it anyway.
I did it anyway. Life is about doing everything with intent and passion and have some fun along the way.